The Western McDiet is taking over China, one sugary snack at a time. Demand for on-the-go, pre-packaged food has skyrocketed as Chinese taste buds turn away from the Chinese staples of rice and vegetables and towards higher-calorie Western snack foods. According to Euromonitor International, the Chinese market for preservative-laden processed foods is set to eclipse American demand by 2015 – and the trend has disturbing implications for the nation’s health.
Preparing and eating traditional Chinese meals is time-consuming, which is part of the reason behind the nation’s increased preference for on-the-go meals. As China expands its round-the-clock, fast-paced urban work force, more and more high-calorie junk foods (such as instant noodles, cookies, and crackers) are appearing on the shelves of the country’s ubiquitous convenience stores. China’s insatiable appetite for cookies was even estimated to account for $24 billion in sales – an amount that increases at about 20% a year.
However the importation of Western snack goods has led to a slew of troubling health problems. The country’s growing addiction to Western-style foods that are packed with higher levels of sugar, salt, and fat have led to a growing childhood obesity epidemic. And according to the World Health Organization, over 38% of Chinese above the age of 15 are overweight, compared to just 7% in 1982. A recent nationwide survey revealed that 11.6%–114 million–have developed diabetes.
A growing nation of junk food snackers, China faces an obesity epidemic that could bankrupt its medical system and handicap its economic growth. And unlike America, China has yet to develop consumer demand for healthier, but pricier, packaged alternatives.